EMPathy Breast Cancer Network (EMPathy BCN)
Primary breast cancer (BrCa) is a curable disease in 80-85% of patients. No effective therapies exist for recurrence - including metastasis, which is the spread of cancer to other organs. Up to 15% of BrCa patients will suffer recurrence and because it is as yet not possible to accurately predict which patients, the large psychological burden of an uncertain future is shared by all. Recurrence may manifest up to 15 years after initial diagnosis and is a major obstacle in the management of BrCa. It arises from dormant disease that had already spread and evaded the systemic therapy at time of the primary cancer. Understanding and targeting dormant tumour cells to combat cancer progression is a major clinical challenge in BrCa.
Epithelial mesenchymal plasticity (EMP) refers to a collective of changes and behaviours of cells in the body that allow the cells to (temporarily or stably) alter their characteristics to become more motile. EMP are the processes that change stationary cells in structured, well defined environments into mobile, adaptable cells that can survive in new environments, and vice versa. A key step in development, EMP is now recognized to also critically influence many aspects of BrCa progression including resistance to systemic therapy. EMP characteristics have been identified in the highly malignant ‘breast cancer stem cells’ (BCSC) that underpin metastasis and fuel recurrence, and in disseminated tumour cells (DTC) and circulating tumour cells (CTC) found in the bone marrow and blood stream, respectively, of BrCa patients more likely to suffer recurrence. DTC and CTC are potential dormant tumour cells involved in recurrence. The involvement of EMP in critical aspects of BrCa has led to the establishment of the EMPathy Breast Cancer Network and its focus on EMP as a timely and novel opportunity for targeting recurrent BrCa.
The EMPathy Breast Cancer Network (EMPathy BCN) is seed-funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) and receives grant moneys from various other major agencies. New funding applications will continue to leverage the Network’s scaleable goals, which are fine-tuned through community engagement. The goals include the integration of EMP assessment in DTC and CTC into BrCa clinical trials, the development of improved BrCa diagnostics that predict response to therapy and the likelihood of recurrence, and the development of agents targeting EMP as therapeutics for BrCa recurrence.
Arising from the NBCF-supported 2008 Think Tank ‘Targeting BrCa Recurrence through EMP’, the EMPathy Breast Cancer Network is a unique collective of multidisciplinary and complementary expertise investigating EMP in BrCa. It consists of 7 interactive ‘work phases’ headed by 8 chief investigators (CI), a number of associate investigators (AI) including a consumer representative, and satellite investigators (SI) with selected projects funded through the program for flexible engagement of further necessary expertise. The Network, which currently spans 5 states with close to 20 research organisations, has a scientific advisory committee (SAC) and consumer representation for guidance and further linking in with the scientific and breast cancer communities. Interactions within and outside the EMPathy Breast Cancer Network are facilitated by regular teleconferences, annual meetings, Think Tanks, a dedicated webpage, and a Wiki (under construction).
Supported by The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF)